Tag Archives: South Korea

My PyeongChang Diary (Part 8)

My final full day in South Korea was a busy one that would take me from our hotel in Phoenix Snow Park to the Olympic International Broadcast Center, back to Phoenix Park – and on to the Jinbu Station: destination Gangneung.

6

I begin my day at 8:00 AM at the International Broadcast Center, about an hour away from Phoenix Park, depending on traffic. On this day, as the 2018 Winter Olympic Games are wrapping up, there’s no traffic. The IBC is a massive structure, built for the Games, which houses the central broadcast operations for NBC — and all the other networks covering the Games.

2

When I first arrived at this facility nearly a month ago (to get a bit of pre-Olympic tech training), it was a bustling hive of human activity. Not today. Aside from a few final events and the Closing Ceremony, the Games are at a close — and so is the IBC.  We’ve come to deliver our 15-minute feature “20 Years of Olympic Snowboarding” — scheduled to air before the Closing Ceremony.

4

Here’s the edit bay we’ve been assigned to so we can listen to the final audio mix, make any last-minute tweaks, do some color adjustments — and prep the sequence to roll-in on air. This is a luxury mansion compared to the metal box we’ve been working in for the past month.

1

Likewise, the NBC commissary at the IBC is a 5-star restaurant compared to our “Kimteen” at Phoenix Park. I got a quality breakfast here to start what would be a long, adventurous day.

3

NBC is obviously (and deservedly) proud of its Olympic broadcasting history. I’m honored to be even a small part of such a fine tradition. As jobs go, this gig was one of the coolest ever!

8

Here’s the view outside the IBC. I’ve reviewed the audio mix for our feature — and now it’s up to our editor, Kevin, who knows the NBC ropes. I’m going back to my hotel to meet our executive producer and join him for the rest of my last full day on a journey to the east coast of South Korea.

9

First, I’ll have to determine which of these shuttles will take me back to Phoenix Park. The drivers speak very little English and I can’t read any Korean, so it won’t be a cinch.

10

Luckily, I find the right bus. These are no ordinary rides: they’re all tricked out. Every driver seems to have his own decorating style: lots of beads, fabrics and vibrant colors….

11

…and, of course, CURLING on the shuttle’s TV screen. Koreans seem to love curling just as much as Canadians. I’ve seen more curling than any other sport — and I’m COVERING snowboarding!

12

After I get back to our hotel, my executive producer, David, and I take a half-hour taxi ride to Jinbu Station — a brand spanking new train hub built to facilitate Olympic traffic.

13

We purchase out tickets to Gangneung from one of these competent young men. The process is very efficient — and tickets are not that expensive. Our train leaves in 15 minutes. So far, so good.

15

Here I am on the platform at Jinbu Station, awaiting the train to Gangneung. Will our journey be worth the effort? After a month confined to our Phoenix Snow Park compound — will we finally enjoy a legitimate Korean cultural experience? Our hopes run high.

16

Of course, like my bright, wonderful grandson — and my dear father before me — I love trains. So, just the sight of these freshly-laid tracks and the tunnel looming ahead fill me with anticipation.

17

And then — it’s here! Our train! And what a beauty it is. Check it out, Declan. Have you ever seen a cooler, sleeker train? I think I’m gonna love this trip.

18

We’ve got tickets for Car #6. But first, we’ve got to let the disembarking passengers off.

19

Here’s my boon traveling companion in his seat — ready for our ride to the coast. This journey was his idea. He has a lot of very good ideas.

20

Our train ride from Jinbu Station to Gangneung takes less than an hour. Here’s the inside of the terminal at Gangneung. As I said before — so far, so good.

21

David outside the Gangneung Station. Our plan is to take a tour bus, see the sights, find some tasty, authentic Korean food — and have a true Korean cultural experience.

22

The Koreans are definitely INTO these Olympics. They line up to have their photos snapped in front of the Olympic rings — flanked by the PyeonChang 2018 mascots.

24

Across the street from the train station, we find a “pop-up” cultural festival in what looks like a huge plastic tent– featuring everything from high-end cosmetics to hand-dripped coffee. Yes, there are Korean hipsters. And they LOVE their coffee.

23 a copy

Right next to the hipsters serving artisan coffees — these ladies in traditional garb serve tea.

Moving on, we discover a traditional Korean market — and encounter these drum and dance performers getting ready to do their thing. Looks like we’re about to have a real cultural experience…

26

By the way, Gangneung is a real city. After a month in the remote resort town of Phoenix Park, it’s exhilarating to be in the mix with so many Koreans in an urban environment.

27

Then we hit the cultural jackpot: this traditional Korean market is about six blocks long and four blocks deep. And there are very few tourists. This is the heart and soul of Gangneung.

29

Here’s a typical stall at the market. I don’t know what any of this stuff is. But David and I are  getting very hungry just looking at it all.

I don’t what this woman was cooking — but just the sound and smell of this boiling pot was exciting. Besides, I thought I glimpsed garlic — and that’s enough for me!

30

We stopped at the stall on the right and sampled these skewers in a brown sauce.  Delicious. We would later learn that they were some kind of buckwheat noodle in a spicy fish sauce.

Those who know me know I’d never eat whatever is swimming around in this pot. (Eeels?) But, once again, it was clear that we were deep into real Korean culture now. Next, we’d go EVEN deeper…

31

That’s right, folks. You’re looking at boiled ox head. We stumbled on a side street with four boiled ox head establishments in a row. The smell was powerful — the setting was steamy and dramatic. And the taste? Some things are best left a mystery.

32

After our trip down Boiled Ox Head Lane, we ran into these helpful ladies, there to provide information to tourists. They spoke quite a bit of English — and  guided us to a local restaurant.

33

Not only did our helpful trio lead us to a great, authentic Korean restaurant — they brokered our meal with the proprietor. The haggling went on for about 10 minutes. We were REALLY having an authentic Korean experience now.

34

Once our menu was determined, the service was fast and attentive. We were the only non-Koreans in the place: just what we wanted.

35

Here’s our main course. All these veggies and lean beef boil down into a sweet and savory stew, cooked right at our table by the restaurant staff.

36

It may look like we just ate everything in the restaurant — but the Koreans like to serve a lot of sides: kimchee, rice, soy bean paste (wonderful!) and many other spicy vegetables. It’s glorious. Washed down with beer. (I’ve learned to abandon the white wine thing in Korea.) A wholly satisfying end to our Korean cultural journey. And to our 2018 Olympic adventure. 고맙습니다

 

 

5 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Beauty, Sports, Travel

My PyeongChang Diary (Part 7)

Those who know me know that I like meat. I’m an unrepentant carnivore.

26So, naturally, I have spent much of the scant recreational time I have during the Olympic Games in search of the best Korean barbeque available in the PyeongChang area.

Living in Los Angeles, I’m acquainted with the tradition of Korean barbeque – but I figured that, being in the motherland, I could treat myself to the very best. My first two attempts at local Korean BBQ dining were good – but neither was a meat-eater’s home run.

1aAnd then, last night, I found — and enjoyed — Korean BBQ heaven.

Our cameraman Corey found the place. It was a 20-minute cab ride from our Phoenix Park hotel – but we were hungry for adventure (and barbequed beef) so we were down for the excursion.

What follows is a pictorial progression through a beef lover’s Korean BBQ pilgrimage. Vegan’s need not apply…

2a

This is the downstairs dining area. You’ll note that there are only Koreans here at this point in the evening. That is absolutely a good sign. We’ve come to the right place.

5This night was Korean Lunar New Year. And the South Koreans were enjoying one of their biggest annual holidays. (See Vietnam’s Tet.) Does the Tet Offensive ring a bell?

We didn’t realize it when we set out, but the restaurant would get very, very busy — and we would have to wait a while to be seated, unlike these folks who shared a special Asian room, with no chairs.

(No shoes, please.)

After dinner, we’d be unable to get a cab ride home because of the busy holiday, but that’s another matter.

The whole evening took 5 hours. But, all in all, it was well worth it!

2

The first step in traditional Korean Barbecue is to visit the butcher and buy your cuts of meat.

8

This woman knows her meat. She explained that the steer we’d be eating was raised organically, with no hormones, grass fed — and A #1. She was not bullshitting.

We bought our beef BEFORE we cooked it. That’s the way it goes. You buy your meat first, then you get seated — and your drinks and everything else are billed later. Meat is Job #1.

With cameraman Corey in the lead, we hauled out cuts of beef to the upstairs dining room after a 20-minute wait. We were famished — but we anticipated beefy, tasty, spicy joy in our near future.

11

The upstairs dining room. It’s getting busy. The meat is about to get cooking…

12

Unlike our cold, steel and glass hotel in Phoenix Park, this Korean BBQ place features warm wood and delightful crystal chandeliers — which we would later learn are from the United States!

13

Seated across the table from me are my AP, Agatha, and my EP, David. We’re all hungry.

15

First come the condiments: onions, garlic, chili paste, peppers, sea salt & other culinary joys.

16

Next, they fire up the tabletop grill. The main meat-lovers event is about to go down…

24a

As the meat grills, you combine ingredients into your bowl — in my case, chili paste, peppers, onions and garlic — so you can plunge your beef bits deep into this spicy heaven.

Next, Corey pulls down the exhaust fan. Otherwise, we’ll all be asphyxiated….

17

Our waiter provides some assistance. Everyone is helpful. They all want us to have a great time.

20

As our first beef course sears on the grill, our crew poses for a pre-meal photo. We’ve all been working hard — and we’re eager for a great meal. Luckily, David & Corey are Korean BBQ experts.

Corey took over as grillmaster. For those of you who know me from Greek Easter — you can appreciate how much I respect Corey’s Korean BBQ chops!

23

Each cut of beef was better than the next — and the last course was the best of all…

Corey was far too modest. His grilling of that last fabulous cut of beef was superb. But our meal was not yet complete. Corey had another great idea…

28

At Corey’s suggestion we ordered this. Somehow, all of this tasty goodness boiled down into an incredible, sweet beef and veggie soup.

27

And finally, here’s our host. Jean went to college and spent a lot of time in Los Angeles (as have a lot of educated South Koreans we’re met). She returned to South Korea a year ago  and started running this restaurant — recognized on Trip Advisor as the best in PyeongChang.

I’m awarding her an Winter Olympic Gold Medal for the Best Korean BBQ.

All hail, Jean!

9 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Random Commentary, rock & roll, Travel, Truth

My PyeongChang Diary (Part 3)

I’ve been in South Korea for less than four days – and I find that I must already issue a personal apology to the good merchants of PyeongChang and the entire South Korean nation.

IMG_6059But first I must satisfy my wife’s desire for photos taken from inside the “convenience store” that has vexed me since my arrival in country.

CU, which opened in 1990 as FamilyMart, has more than 10,000 stores and is the largest chain store in South Korea. The signage suggests there is some relation to the American chain CVS – but my hasty, haphazard Internet research has not turned up a connection.

IMG_6060The CU store looks like it should have a lot of stuff that you want. It’s crazy colorful, with rows of tantalizing packaging – but nothing is quite as good as it looks.

It’s 85% snacks — and 15% beer. From what I’ve seen, South Korea is a beer drinking culture.

To be certain, there are Ramen noodles for days. In fact, this particular CU store features a display of noodle containers stacked to resemble a Mayan temple complex. Sort of.

IMG_6061And then there is this strange machine, which I suspect is either a lottery machine or something to do with cigarettes.IMG_6066I must admit that I am simply a befuddled American peering into the smallest window of South Korean culture – and unable to see what would be apparent to a wise traveller who actually prepared to go to South Korea beyond bringing warm clothes, thermal socks and two bags of toe warmers.

IMG_6062But, looking at the beverage cases in the back of the CU, we come to the reason for my apology.

In my previous posts I have decried the absence of Diet Coke in PyeongChang. Full of righteous indignation and good old American superiority, I have maligned the CU for not stocking a decent Chardonnay – and for not having Diet Coke.

But let’s look closer at these two Coke bottles side by side. They look almost the same. But if one looks closer (which Americans rarely do) it is clear that these bottles are not entirely alike.IMG_6063 One, in fact, subtly but clearly states that it has “Zero Sugar”. And, if one bothers to actually read the front label, it’s also clear that it has zero calories. It is, in fact, Coke Zero. Not Diet Coke exactly — but entirely deserving of an apology.

I can at least wash down the heaping helping of crow I must eat with a diet beverage, full of caffeine and that great cola taste.

WineOn the other hand, my only Chardonnay options continue to be a terrible Chilean wine – and a semi-potable concoction foisted upon the Koreans by an unscrupulous California vintner.

Then again, maybe I’m not looking closely enough.

Travel is all about learning — and being open to what you don’t know. After four days in South Korea, my education has barely begun.img04

5 Comments

Filed under Adventure, Sports, Travel